Flood recovery groups remain active, needed

Saturday, December 22, 2012
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Volunteer Norman Torres works in a kitchen of a home at 10 Lock Street in Rotterdam Junction, as the flood recovery coalition wraps up work in the community, which was devastated by flooding that resulted from Tropical Storm Irene more than a year ago.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Volunteer Norman Torres works in a kitchen of a home at 10 Lock Street in Rotterdam Junction, as the flood recovery coalition wraps up work in the community, which was devastated by flooding that resulted from Tropical Storm Irene more than a year ago.

— The volunteer crews stopped coming to Jon Nertney’s house months ago.

But that doesn’t mean Nertney’s Rotterdam Junction home, badly damaged by flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene, doesn’t need some work. The stairs still lack carpeting, and a railing needs to be installed. There are some gaps in his tile, and a light fixture needs to be fixed.

Nertney credits volunteers with getting him back on his feet after 3 feet of water filled the downstairs of his home in August 2011. During a brief tour, he showed off his new walls and floors.

“Without them, I’m dead,” the 62-year-old said of the volunteers. “I didn’t know what to do [when the flood hit].”

The volunteer effort aimed at helping flood victims fix up their homes is winding down, but loose ends remain.

The Flood Recovery Coalition for Schenectady County, formed in late 2011, is still working closely with about a half-dozen homeowners and will remain in contact. The command center the group established in the rectory of St. Margaret of Cortona Church in Rotterdam Junction will likely be shut down by the end of January, and coordinator Nathan Mandsager is transitioning into a job at the City Mission of Schenectady, though he visits homeowners and volunteers every week.

Since the coalition formed, volunteers have helped rebuild 68 homes throughout Schenectady County and cleaned out another 40. Now volunteers are in the final stages of rebuilding the last house in need of work, on Lock Street in Rotterdam Junction, and are assisting about five other homeowners by providing materials such as trim, doors and flooring. Only interior work remains; the home on Lock Street is in fairly good shape, with new siding and fresh sheetrock.

“We’re close,” Mandsager said. “We’re working on getting things wrapped up.”

Mandsager said he plans to assess how flood-stricken communities are doing at the end of January, and that work will continue for a while. He noted there will be a need for lawn cleanup, especially for elderly homeowners.

The coalition comprises the City Mission of Schenectady, Catholic Charities, Schenectady Habitat for Humanity, the Schenectady Community Action Program, St. Clare’s Church, the American Red Cross, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Schenectady Foundation. The organization has worked with homeowners in Rotterdam Junction, Pattersonville, Schenectady’s Stockade neighborhood, Scotia, Glenville and Duanesburg.

Even though its flood relief effort is almost complete, the coalition has no plan to disband.

The group has vowed to continue working together, and has already begun shifting its attention to new projects. One area of focus is the homes abandoned by their owners after the flood. Earlier this year, Mandsager estimated that there were at least 20 such properties in Schenectady County, about a dozen of them in Rotterdam Junction alone.

“The abandoned homes are a significant concern,” said Robert Carreau, executive director of the Schenectady Foundation, a philanthropic trust that provides grants to community-based organizations.

Carreau said the coalition is monitoring the situation and trying to figure out whether it can help develop a plan for the vacant houses.

“We’ve worked on houses that are right next door to abandoned homes,” he said. “It becomes a health hazard. To have blight in your neighborhood, that’s not helpful. We hope to have more clarity about what options are available for working on the abandoned properties by spring.”

The coalition is discussing setting up a permanent organization that could be activated in times of emergency. Carreau noted that when Hurricane Sandy threatened the region, county officials and municipalities stayed in touch with members of the group, which was ready to spring into action.

“We were in the line of communication,” he said. “We were invited to the table.”

Carreau said the Schenectady Foundation will maintain its Rebuilding Families fund, which provided assistance to flood victims.

“We definitely don’t think the job is completely done,” Carreau said. “There are still some residents who are going to have some needs.”

“We’re not leaving,” Mandsager said. “That’s the great thing about the coalition. There’s going to be an ongoing connection, because we’ve built so many strong relationships.”

The Flood Recovery Coalition’s disaster case manager, Carol Fallon, will remain employed through August and still has 16 active cases. People in need of assistance can contact her at cfallon@cathcharschdy.org.

The work of rebuilding continues unabated in Schoharie County, where Schoharie Area Long Term envisions a process that will take 3 to 5 years. The organization provides support and resources to various flood recovery groups, civic organizations and agencies in Schoharie County and the Greene County town of Prattsville, with the goal of making rebuilding more efficient and organized.

Sarah Goodrich, SALT’s executive director, said the group plans to conduct an assessment to find out where people are and what they still need. She said SALT hears each week from flood victims who are contacting the organization for the first time, which means a lot of people have fallen through the cracks or weren’t ready to begin work on their homes.

“They tell us, ‘My neighbor told me to call you,’ ” Goodrich said.

Many flood victims are still struggling to obtain the financing needed to fix their homes, she said.

“It’s hard for some of these people to get a loan,” she said. “Had they applied for the same loan before the flood, they would have gotten it.”

Right now, SALT is doing interior work on flood-damaged homes, but the organization hopes to have a plan for warm-weather work in place by the end of January, so volunteers have a clear strategy for rebuilding.

“We have made a lot of progress,” Goodrich said, “but we know we’re not done.”

 

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